Ballet Overlaps

By Alana Isiguen

Alana_Isiguen_ballet2Ah, ballet. I will always have a love for it. Ever since I started dancing, I have taken classes in ballet. Though it was always alongside other techniques, and it fluctuated as my ‘favorite’ style, ballet was my main focus until college. First it was the Cecchetti method, where my young brain reveled in the organization of my body into shapes and the studio into a grid for bodies to be mapped upon. Later, I studied with Patricia McBride. Patti, as we called her, is a Balanchine ballerina and was very influential in the forming of my balletic style and approach. Learning more and more Balanchine repertory, I saw the overlap of jazz, both in musicality and movement, and I embraced the neo-classical ballet style. When I was introduced to Alonzo King’s work and Forsythe’s pieces from the ‘80s, I was drawn in by the modern influences, delving head first into the world of contemporary ballet. Later still, while studying privately with Rebecca Massey Wiley and then in a mainly contemporary/modern European school for the summer, I embraced the functionality of ballet – as a way to learn structural foundation and alignment and to understand your body as a well-organized instrument that could do whatever you needed it to do – be it thrash on the floor, break-dance, or perform a site specific piece in a tub while people smashed eggs on your head.

My love and interest for other styles of dance like jazz and contemporary, as well as mind-body awareness methods like somatics and Pilates, have given me multiple lenses to look at ballet through. I am so sad when I hear teachers of a specific style say, “You are not in (blank) class. Stop dancing like you are.” I say the word “blank” because I’ve heard it in all classes; a modern teacher speaking about ballet, a ballet teacher about contemporary, a jazz teacher about modern, etc. As a dancer and a teacher, this baffles me. Yes, we must shift gears to apply specific sensibilities to particular styles so our qualities and attack will differ, but our approaches to each style overlap. We are the same human and body in whatever we do. Concepts of grounding, syncopation, moving through forms and shapes all apply to various genres. In today’s world of dance, versatility is valued more than ever. The ability to start from a neutral body, usually learned through somatics or Pilates, is becoming a more coveted skill set. An added bonus is that these skills help keep a dancer’s body healthy. Of course every dancer has a style they feel most at home with, but I believe each technique and style teaches you about the other – with ballet being the foundation of them all.

The relevance ballet continues to have in my life are in the lessons I learn in ballet class that overlap with my life as a human being in the world – discipline, perseverance, humility, graciousness, bravery, the power of vulnerability and the list goes on. Summer Rhatigan is a ballet teacher whose classes turned my idea of ballet on its head. Her classes gave me one of my first experiences in how ballet class was about something so much more than simply perfecting the form. I won’t try to describe her class because it is always changing and I could never do it justice with my words. What I do know is that over the past ten years, every class I take from her I learn something new about life and myself. I know that will continue as long as I continue to show up.

Growing up, ballet class was my sanctuary. It was my time and space, whether that meant taking the time to process my thoughts or just letting go of the day and focusing on the task at hand. Whatever the case, the ritual of showing up, being present, working hard, sweating, and using my physical and emotional bodies together to accomplish something was the most wonderful release. I feel incredibly fortunate I had those experiences on a daily basis.

Now as I find myself more and more on the other side of the room as the teacher, I always strive to provide students with the tools for understanding their bodies in movement and in life. I encourage students to make connections between the concepts we work on in class and their own personal experiences in dance, art, and life. In my eyes, these connections will continue to keep ballet relevant for generations to come.


Alana loves dancing. She is currently pursuing her MFA degree in Dance Pedagogy at UCI. She does not claim to be a ballerina or a writer. She appreciates the richness ballet and dance continue to bring to her life every day.


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